Jerry Paris, the actor/director best-known for his work in classic television, was born William Gerald Paris in San Francisco, California on this day in 1925.
A child of divorce, Jerry was adopted as a child by his mother’s second husband and took the name William Gerald Grossman. When he became a professional actor, he would revert to his biological father’s last name.
Prior to his Hollywood career her served in the military and went to college, studying at NYU, UCLA and the Actor’s Studio after serving in the Navy during World War II. During his post-war years in New York he took small roles on Broadway, even appearing alongside Celeste Holm in a production of Anna Christie.
When Jerry began to take on film roles, he started out where many actors do: in very small, uncredited roles. His first credited role was in 1950’s Outrage. After that film was released, he continued to occasionally take on uncredited work along with credited roles in more prestigious films like The Caine Mutiny and Marty. None of these roles were leads; Paris was usually cast as the energetic, helpful friend of the lead.
Jerry never really got a “big break” in the film world. It was television, a newer medium on the verge of a popularity-explosion, where he would find success.
After landing recurring roles on late-1950s series such as Those Whiting Girls and The Untouchables, Jerry was hit with a stroke of luck when he was cast as a best friend once again: Jerry Helper, best friend and dentist to Rob and Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, premiering in 1961.
This role would not only give him a steady job and the opportunity to flex his comedic muscles, but would also lead to his own creative growth. Carl Reiner, creator/producer/showrunner of the series, gave Jerry his first directing job: the “Ray Murdock’s X-Ray” episode. Paris would eventually build up an impressive 57-title directorial resume in television and film, including 83 more episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. He would return to the screen sporadically throughout the rest of his career, but he found his passion in directing and continued his behind-the-camera work until 1986, the year of his death.
My adoration of Jerry Paris requires no explanation, for by now you are all well-informed of my adoration of The Dick Van Dyke Show. I could celebrate Jerry’s birthday by listing all of my favorite moments from his time on The Dick Van Dyke Show, or listing my favorite episodes that he directed, but I’ll leave that for the continuing Recap & React series and instead share a list of some of my favorite non-Van Dyke projects from Jerry’s filmography.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season 1, Episode 26: “Whodunit”
One of my favorite episodes of the entire Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. It deals with a recently-deceased mystery writer trying to solve the mystery of his own death. Jerry does not play our mystery writer, but instead plays Wally Benson, one of the suspects. The role is pretty small, but a load of fun. He gets to play the man that is a little too friendly with the writer’s wife.
Happy Days is a series that I’ve been watching practically since the day I was born. I grew up on re-runs of it and to this day consider it one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Jerry Paris directed the majority of the series (230-something of the series’ 250-something episodes). It’s such an iconic series, and beyond that, it’s just a ton of fun to watch.
Laverne & Shirley – “The Bachelor Party”
Laverne & Shirley is another series that I have an enormous amount of nostalgic love for, though it originally aired before I was born. Since it has often been paired with Happy Days on the local classic TV re-run stations, I have a lot of fond memories of watching this wonderful sitcom with my dad. (I even have the theme song set as my ringtone on my cell phone when he calls. And he once got me a monogrammed “L” sweater for Christmas. We love the show THAT much.) “The Bachelor Party” was only the second episode of the series, and it follows Laverne as she allows a bachelor party to take over her parents’ pizzeria. Such a fun episode.
There’s no denying that Ernest Borgnine totally steals the show in this dramatic film, but Jerry gives a solid supporting performance as Tommy, Marty’s accountant cousin.
The Munsters – “Movie Star Munster”
Another classic TV episode directed by Jerry. I love The Munsters, and this episode has Herman getting his chance at Hollywood stardom. A great premise to start with, but all of the one-liners and gags work especially well under Paris’ direction.
Happy birthday, Jerry!